Dave Grohl will never be hip. In an age of irony, his lyrics are too earnest, his guttural howl bringing overwrought passion to hard-rocking Hallmark cards like "My Hero." So I wrote in 2005, to open my review of the fifth Foo Fighters album In Your Honor. Six years later, little has changed, and that’s a good thing.
It’s hard to imagine former bandmate Kurt Cobain would approve of Wednesday night’s six-string assault on Oakland’s Oracle Arena (left uninhabited by the Golden State Warriors amid an NBA lockout that only delays the team’s next losing season). Grohl, unlike the late Nirvana headliner, basks in the spotlight a bit too readily, with a zeal unbecoming a postmodern frontman.
To boot, there’s nothing inaccessible about the deliciously catchy pop-metal he favors. When he’s not sprinting about the stage, thrashing his mane in time with the band’s driving riffs, he enthusiastically leads the crowd – packed to the rafters for this evening’s two-and-a-half-hour-plus marathon – in sing-alongs. He indulges in the unnecessary solo. He even strikes rock-star poses.
In short, he does all the little things that make the Foo Fighters, his primary focus over the last 16 years, the last of the great arena-rock bands.
That’s not to slight the Stones, who drag their geriatric bones onto the stage every couple of years to cash in on their reputation as a formidable live act, occasionally with transcendent results. Nor is it an affront to AC/DC, who visit North America roughly once a decade to prove Angus Young can still shred in his trademark schoolboy shorts.
But the Foo Fighters are no relics dishing out finely preserved nostalgia to adoring fans. From the moment they took the stage, launching into the full-tilt grind of “Bridge Burning,” from this year’s Wasting Light, the sextet (including former Nirvana touring guitarist Pat Smear, who recently rejoined the Foos as a full-time member) left little doubt that time is still on their side.
If Grohl seems a throwback – confirmed when he implores prospective rockers in the crowd to “pick up a fuckin’ guitar, not a fuckin’ computer,” before throwing Coldplay and U2 under the bus for embracing tech savviness – the label fits.
On Wednesday, he tore through the band’s biggest hits (“Monkey Wrench,” “Breakout” and even “This Is a Call,” from their eponymous 1995 debut) with the feral aggression of a man half his age (42). Once known for downing 10 shots as part of his pre-show ritual, the now “disgustingly domesticated” singer still swigs Beck’s between aural attacks, which retain their blunt force almost in spite of the band’s impossibly tight, polished sound.
That’s not to suggest the Foos don’t deviate from the script. While some of their offerings (“Learn to Fly,” “Everlong”) came off, for the most part, as skillfully reproduced – and highly amplified – versions of the original singles, the band stretched out “Stacked Actors,” the snarling opener from 1999’sThere Is Nothing Left to Lose, with a slowed-down bluesy jam, allowing Grohl and guitarist Chris Shiflett a moment to trade searing licks.
Among the evening’s biggest surprises: note-perfect covers of Pink Floyd’s “In the Flesh,” with drummer Taylor Hawkins on vocals, and, following a mini solo acoustic set, Tom Petty’s “Breakdown.” Also unexpected: ex-Hüsker Dü frontman Bob Mould taking the already crowded stage during the band’s six-number encore for a spirited take on Wasted’s “Dear Rosemary.”
From there, the Foos closed with “Everlong,” capping an evening replete with all the trappings of a traditional arena show save one: pyrotechnics. Happily, none were needed. The fireworks flowing from the music and Grohl’s tireless showmanship were more than enough to satisfy the nearly 20,000 in attendance, most of whom who stood from start to finish in appreciation.
Photography courtesy of Misha Vladimirskiy